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5 simple tips around parties and ‘gatherings’, rule setting and parenting

This week a story broke in the Sydney Morning Herald regarding an incident at a prestigious eastern suburb’s school involving a teenage party and some extremely disturbing behaviour. I was quoted in the original article, not about the actual incident but the more general issue of parties and parenting. The media hasn’t stopped since with stories running on the topic in the SMH for the last three days, as well as a great deal of radio and TV interest. With the understanding that there is no way you can ensure that absolutely nothing will go wrong, my general line has been that to keep your kids as safe as possible, ‘parents need to start parenting’ and setting rules and boundaries around alcohol and parties and discussions on the topic need to start early, well before children start to be invited to parties where potentially dangerous behaviour may take place.

The response to my comments has been quite overwhelming … with most parents who have contacted me saying that they were so glad to see that someone was actually saying that rules were important and saying ‘no’ to your child was a critical part of good parenting. I have also been asked to provide some simple tips on the issue … so here I go!

The first time your child is invited to their first teenage
party or ‘gathering’ (don’t be fooled – a ‘gathering’ is a party – it’s just this generation decided to change the name!) is going to be scary! Most importantly, remember that parties are extremely important for young people as they provide them
with valuable opportunities to develop a range of social skills that they need
to relate effectively with their peers. Unfortunately, they are also,
by their very nature, places where
people are going to let their hair down and things can and do go wrong, particularly
when alcohol is added to the mix.

Most importantly, parents need to do their homework – unfortunately, some of the information you will need to make a decision can be extremely difficult to collect! It is imperative that you know what type of event your
child is going to attend. Ask your child questions about the party and where it
is being held. Get as much as information as you can, and don’t just rely on what
your child is willing and able to tell you. Even though you may have the most
trusting relationship with your child I would suggest that you are not going to
get the whole story from them – not that they would necessarily lie to you.
It’s just that they really wouldn’t know themselves – as a parent you need to
go to the source, i.e., the parents holding the gathering.

You are going to have to decide what questions they will want to ask the host parents, depending on the age of the child and your own personal values, but essentially they should cover issues such as start and finish times, supervision details and whether alcohol will be permitted or tolerated. Notice that I said ‘permitted’ or ‘tolerated’ and not ‘provided’ – this unfortunately is a trap that many parents find themselves in when they believe they have done their homework and asked all the right questions and are sending their child to an alcohol-free party, when in actual fact, although the host parents don’t necessarily provide alcohol they may allow teens to bring their own (or at the very least turn a blind eye to young people bringing it in).
So here are my 5 simple tips around parties and gatherings, rule setting and parenting – they’re certainly not always going to be easy to do, but that’s parenting for you:
  • Know where your child is and who they’re with – to make absolutely sure, always take them to where they’re going and pick them up. Don’t leave it up to someone else to do!
  • Always call the parents who are hosting the party or gathering. Speak to them and find out some basic information about supervision and whether alcohol will be provided or tolerated.
  • Create rules around parties and gatherings early, preferably before they start to be invited to these events. 
  • Make the consequences of breaking the rules clear and stick to them, but ensure they understand all rules are made because you love them and want them to be safe.
  • If kids don’t like the rules, then they’re most probably perfect. But remember, reward good behaviour and modify the rules as they get older to make sure they’re age appropriate.
Your biggest fight will be around calling the host parents or dropping and picking them up from the event. Teenagers are not going to like you doing either – in fact, they’ll most probably call you a whole pile of names and tell you that you’re ruining their life and ‘shaming them forever’. It’s difficult being a parent of an adolescent but that’s part of the whole experience! Unfortunately, I have met parents who gave in and did not make the call or weren’t there to pick them up at the end of the night and tragedies occurred – let me tell you, when you meet a Mum or Dad who has lost a child in this way it breaks your heart …
If you do decide to let your child attend a party or gathering, be aware that there is no way that you can be prepared for all of the possible scenarios that may occur. It is vital however, that you realize that things can go wrong and do your best to outline some possible strategies that could keep your teenager safe in potentially dangerous situations. It is extremely important to discuss these with your child and, most importantly, let them know that no matter what happens they can contact you and you will be there for them, no matter what.

Looking for information or support services on alcohol or drugs?

If you or a friend or family member needs assistance in this area, Alcohol and Drug Information Services (ADIS) are available in every state and territory. Each of these are each staffed by trained professionals who can help with your query and provide confidential advice or refer you to an appropriate service in your area.

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